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Broward Lawmaker Kristin Jacobs Dies After Cancer Battle

Kristin Jacobs and her partner, Steve Vancore
Kristin Jacobs and her partner, Steve Vancore

State Rep. Kristin Jacobs was a policy-loving, pragmatic and driven “warrior” who fought as fiercely against the cancer that took her life as she did for Florida’s natural resources.

Jacobs, 60, died peacefully Saturday morning in Tallahassee, surrounded by her children and her partner, Steve Vancore.

Jacobs, who was elected to the House in 2014 after serving 16 years on the Broward County Commission, carved a niche as a leader on climate change, earning appointments by President Barack Obama to several commissions.

The South Florida Democrat was known by House colleagues for tempering passion with practicality in a chamber dominated by Republicans, as evidenced by the outpouring of praise for Jacobs following her death.

“The world needs more Kristin Jacobs’. Rep. Jacobs was a force for good,” House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a prepared statement. “Even as she battled cancer, she remained dedicated and steadfast in her service to Floridians --- requesting bills be heard in her absence and being in the chamber every minute that she could. She will be remembered forever for her heart of service."

An avid cyclist and camper, Jacobs, who had three children and three grandchildren, was a champion for the state’s waterways not only in policy but also in practice.

“We fell in love riding bikes,” Vancore said in a telephone interview early Saturday.

While Jacobs was a tenacious advocate for her issues, her desire to bridge partisan divides earned her a well-deserved reputation as a consensus builder, Vancore said.

“She was not a scorched-earth warrior. She was a warrior who didn’t want bloodshed. She was a warrior who made sure both armies came along with her,” he added.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, a Broward County Democrat, served with Jacobs in the House until Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to head the state agency last year. Before, that, Moskowitz was a member of the Parkland City Commission during Jacobs’ tenure as county mayor.

“She was already a warrior that people are calling her now. She was already that when she was on the (county) commission, fighting for climate change and the environment, well over a decade ago before it became popular,” Moskowitz told The News Service of Florida on Saturday morning. “She was not only fighting for it, she was having to educate people about it.”

Jacobs was admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Moskowitz said.

“In politics you make enemies. It’s just a natural thing that happens. But you can look as long as you want. You will not find one person that will say one off-color thing about Kristin,” he said, adding that she was “willing to put personal feelings aside to try to move the ball forward and make Florida better for everybody.”

Jacobs was “the most genuine, decent, caring, and effervescent person,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a fellow Broward County Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

“She remained sunny and ever-optimistic throughout the course of her treatment, even under the shadow of a poor prognosis, just like she was in everything she did,” Wasserman Schultz, a cancer survivor, said. “She was a groundbreaking environmental leader whose sheer will and warm, engaging personality turned adversaries into friends. She was smart and tough and stood up for her beliefs, always backing them with facts and data.”

While known for her work on the environment, Jacobs played a major role in the House’s effort to pass a school-safety measure following the 2018 mass shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said Moskowitz, who worked closely with her on the issue.

“Everybody knows my style. I’m very aggressive. Kristin was the calm force, the level-headed person. She was the one in all of those internal arguments, the steady-ahead on the goal of getting that passed,” he said. “She was my 50-50 partner, true-and-true, getting that bill across the finish line in the House.”

In her last legislative accomplishment, Jacobs successfully shepherded a measure aimed at reducing “shark finning,” which involves cutting off shark fins, considered a delicacy in parts of Asia.

Jacobs, who was unable to attend much of the 2020 legislative session as she battled colon cancer, was on the House floor when the chamber voted 119-1 to approve the measure (SB 680) on March 9.

Before the vote, the House unanimously renamed the measure the “The Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act.”

“Thank you all for this collective hug,” Jacobs told her House colleagues, following a standing ovation. “I’ve never approved of naming anything after anyone still living, but I’m thrilled to be able to have my name on this act.”

Moskowitz said he knows how much the passage of the bill meant to Jacobs and how important it was that she was able to be in the Capitol to continue her advocacy on the issues she cared about in the weeks before she died.

In a 2014 interview before she was elected to the House, Jacobs told The News Service of Florida she learned how to be effective while on the county commission dominated by Democrats.

Stopping herself at times from getting "too deep in the weeds," Jacobs rattled off details about a variety of issues ranging from bike trails to water storage to red light cameras.

"I love policy. We don't have enough people up there that are, in essence, wonkish," Jacobs said at the time.

With Democrats outnumbered by Republicans in Tallahassee, Jacobs said she was "pragmatic" about working incrementally toward longer-term goals.

"You have to be assertive and you have to be direct and you have to pace yourself," she said, pointing to her years-long effort to get Broward County to support a living wage.

Jacobs also said she wanted to bring a woman's perspective to Tallahassee.

"We vote differently. We think differently. We negotiate differently," she said.

Jacobs’ death leaves a void in Broward County that will be impossible to fill, Moskowitz said.

“There are big shoes to fill and, quite frankly, no one is going to be able to replace not just her advocacy, but also how she handled it, with her grace, with her calmness. Those are going to be big shoes over there,” he said.

Vancore, a political consultant, said he and her family intend to have a memorial service for Jacobs in the spring at Kissimmee River State Park, one of her favorite camping sites. Her ashes will be dispersed in the river, he said in a telephone interview as he was inundated with calls and texts from friends mourning Jacobs’ passing.

“It’s overwhelming. It is nothing but how she touched them. I can’t even handle it right now,” he said.

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